Address – Commander In Chief Parade – 2015

His Excellency Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona ORTT. SC. President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago addressed the Commander In Chief Parade at the Defence Force Heliport on September 26, 2015.

Firstly, as your Commander in Chief it swells my heart with pride to be able to congratulate you on that splendid display of drill and precision timing. Such grace and dexterity have become all but synonymous with the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force and I only wish that more of our citizenry could bear witness to this disciplined spectacle we witnessed. The electrifying pulse of the Defence Force Steel Orchestra has reminded me of the impact of our culture on the wider world and indeed is a fitting culmination to this week of celebration of our 39th Anniversary of achieving Republican status. I do hope that Republic Day was well spent reflecting on among other things, the positives of the Defence Force. You are the vanguard in the service of our democracy and on behalf of a grateful Trinidad and Tobago, I say a heartfelt ‘thank you’. Not many people know of the true capabilities of our Defence Force, but when I recount this evening’s tactical display, I am even more fortified in my view that our security forces can stand against any internal or external threat that may arise.

One Force on parade and on operations, truly a splendid ideal, but sometimes we forget the other members of the Defence Force Family. We often forget the utility of family support in engaging your responsibility as servicemen and women. As I reminded the Chief of Staff, there is a critical need to have the families of our service personnel intimately involved in all the aspects of their working lives if we are to build greater morale and to ensure strong, wholesome military families. I recall last week at the 2015 Long Service Medals Parade, where I ensured that family members be invited, the wife of one our servicemen receiving a Long Service Award came up to me and said “Mr. President, I want to thank you for inviting me to see my husband get his medal today. When I saw him walk across that stage, salute you and get his medal, I felt so proud, and it made me feel important”. An honest statement that was totally unsolicited and unexpected, but genuine to the very core. Indeed the time has come for us to disengage exclusivity as a mode of operations in our Defence Force celebrations and ceremonies, especially since within the military it is often the families that make the greatest sacrifices. When our servicemen and women are deployed at outstations or go overseas on operations or training, there is massive displacement and it is the families that are left behind, in some instances, who feel the burden of the vacuum that is created. Our servicemen and women miss small, defining moments in their family lives, the children’s first days of school, victories at sporting events, and report card returns. Yes, they are small moments to others, but to families and you the serviceperson, it is a lifetime opportunity that is forever lost, not to return. In the same way, these parades and ceremonies have the ability to have even greater an impact on family members. I believe that your families and the wider public must be made aware of, and celebrate the importance and depth of your national service. It is you who guard the gates while we slumber safely in our beds at night.

For this I want to take the opportunity to commend you all as individuals and as a Defence Force. One of my greatest moments as Commander in Chief was presenting the Humming Bird Medal, Bronze for gallantry to 2 of our service men, first Sub Lieutenant Edric Hargreaves, who assisted in the rescue of a Diego Martin family after their boat sank in Staubles Bay, Chaguaramas. The family were on their way back from down the islands when they encountered boat trouble near King’s Bay. Sub Lieutenant Heargreaves spotted the sinking vessel from his vehicle along Western Main Road, after leaving the Coast Guard headquarters at Staubles Bay. He stopped the vehicle, and without hesitation swam out to the family indifferent to his personal risk. He stayed with the family after they reached the shore to make certain that they were all okay and ensured other Coast Guard officers were there to assist. This great feat is a testament to the brave, genuine and excellent character of Sub Lieutenant Hargreaves and the Coast Guard Unit he serves. “Bravo Zulu”, Sub Lieutenant Hargreaves, we are proud of you, and your family that nurtured in you such selflessness. Secondly, there is Private Fernando Smith. On Wednesday 17th December 2014, Private Fernando Smith and Private Ryan Gittens were traversing on a foot path through Laventille in the St Paul Street area. Whilst searching an abandoned house in Clifton Hill, the patrol was fiercely fired upon by gunmen shooting from multiple directions. Private Gittens was shot and unable to move and his life was in danger. Private Smith, at great personal danger, dragged his colleague out of the line of fire into safety returning fire as he took fire from several directions.  Private Smith then radioed the Inter Agency Task Force (IATF) and nearby patrols who subsequently rendered assistance. Private Gittens was taken to the hospital. During the exchange, Private Smith discharged some 150 rounds of ammunition to save the life of both Private Gittens and himself. Well done, soldier. We are also proud of you, your family and the Defence Force that imbibed in you the virtue of being your brother’s keeper.

Our servicemen and women continue to make us proud rendering yeoman service to our regional partners and making sure that the Red, White and Black flies proudly. To the members of the Trinidad and Tobago Air Guard, your service is truly Above and Beyond. Our two (2) AW139 helicopters were deployed to Dominica to assist with disaster relief efforts following Tropical Storm Erika in August 2015, and I have been made to understand that the crews, through sleepless nights and days, racked up some impressive numbers during almost 48 complete hours of flight time. As I stated previously, while many of us were at home relaxing or celebrating our Independence, our men and women in uniform were out there, extending the hand of compassion and assistance beyond our shores. And I cannot forget our Reservists, ever willing, ever faithful. You continue to hold the fort in order to allow the Regulars to conduct their duties. A special thanks to you, the often unsung heroes of the Defence Force.

We take national service for granted and fail to realize that you, the serviceperson, give the prime of your life to the country, and often at the end have little to show for it. I posit the question as to what happens to the serviceman or servicewoman when he or she leaves service at age 45 or 47. In the prime of your life with years of skill, discipline, training and expertise under your belt, I am all too aware of the painful reality of some having to resort to menial employment to eek out a meagre salary, some running PH to make ends meet, holding down a small security job somewhere and generally on the hustle. This only exemplifies and demonstrates a lack of the proper recognition and utilization of a well-trained human resource. Yes, I am aware of the Force’s Resettlement Training programme and the rationale behind it, commendable as it is, but many fall through the cracks and are not given or able to obtain employment commensurate with their expertise. As your Commander in Chief your welfare is at the top of my priority list and I will continue to press the relevant authorities to do what is necessary to bring our military up to par with international standards of social and welfare services, inclusive of housing and salaries both before and after retirement.

I know that my entreaty may sound like a cry in the wilderness, but mine is very small compared to the blaring echo of Retired Commander Gaylord Kelshall. Commander Gaylord Kelshall continues to fight a good fight, an honest and honourable fight. I will repeat it until I can say “Mission Accomplished Gentlemen”. He is fighting a truly patriotic fight to establish a military museum that is befitting the hallowed tradition of the Defence Force and the sacred memories of an era long gone. It is only night before that I spoke to the lack of national pride in relation to our historic buildings and our lack of genuine appreciation of ourselves as a people. The depreciation of our military museum is a stark reminder of this. So many of our brave men and women paid the ultimate price so that we can enjoy the freedoms we so blatantly flaunt. And yet, their efforts fade into oblivion, as so few of us actually remember or respect the personal sacrifices they made. Our military history must not be treated as an afterthought. Historical stewardship and documentation must be encouraged and supported, and we have had many servicepersons penning many great historical pieces. For example, it may come as a surprise to many of you, but Commander Gaylord Kelshall, has written “The U-Boat War in The Caribbean”, which has been one of the international training texts used by the US Navy in training Officer Cadets. Next week I am scheduled to receive Mr. Clement Burkette, the former soldier and author of “Reflections of a Soldier”. I hope that by now every member of the Force has read his book and looks forward to the release of his next text. The memories of our soldiers, young and old, must be revered. There must be a sense of appreciation and ownership for those who paid the ultimate price in protecting our democracy and ensuring that ours remains a just and equitable society.

Penultimately, I was quite disheartened when at last year’s Memorial Day Parade, there were so few of us there placing wreaths for fallen servicemen and women at the Cenotaph in Memorial Park, Port of Spain, lest you do not know where it is, and even fewer young people coming out to witness the event. Memorial Day is celebrated to remind us of a moment in history when young men 16 and 17 years of age, during World War 1 and 2, left their home and their homelands, many never to return, to serve a greater good and cause. Their sacrifices must be honoured and we must teach the young to honour them. It is my fervent wish this year to have bleachers erected around Memorial Park on Memorial Day and let us bus in students by the hundreds from all over our blessed Republic to don their poppies in honour of those who fought and in memory of those who fell. In the end, our children will invariably hunger to search their family trees to see if any of their families served in the Great Wars, before their memories fade into oblivion. Vigilance against the scourge of nepotism, bigotry and impunity must be nurtured in our young from an early age. What I am suggesting to be done will encourage a new and much needed respect and admiration for the Defence Force among our young people.

Finally, as your Commander in Chief I must extend my thanks to the Chief of Defence Staff, Major General Kenrick Maharaj, who is expected to pass on the baton of leadership soon to another deserving Senior Officer and I wish him my heartfelt best in his future endeavours. I firmly believe that his legacy in the Defence Force will remain long after his retirement, and I look forward to welcoming the new Chief of Defence Staff when that time comes. Major General Kenrick Maharaj, this Republic salutes you for a job well done. To you I say all God’s blessings. To my servicemen and women, my Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force I say, I am proud to be here with you today and I look forward to the good that you continue to bring to all of us, most of all, that deep sense of security and protection.  May God bless you and all your families.  Thank you.